Insight

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is not stopping anytime soon. As of 12 April, Malaysia had 184 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 4,530. Meanwhile on 10 April, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin extended the Movement Control Order by another two weeks to 28 April. The advertising industry has no doubt been impacted during this period, with clients either holding back spending or are required to quickly rethink their strategies to suit the current landscape.

A+M speaks to leaders in the agency space on how the advertising scene has changed during COVID-19 and whether they have seen a dip in ad spend.

Yeow Mei Ling, managing director, Southeast Asia, Archetype

We find that many of our clients are really busy and truly appreciate the support and perspectives that their agency partner can provide. So, while spend has definitely been affected, we are reassured by the stance that communications is important no matter what – it’s about what is being said, how we can support and how we continue to connect Having a very diverse client base has helped us take learnings and quickly move from our regular work to more strategic outreach that is tuned to the more sensitive and confined environment that we work in today. By being creative, agile and proactive, we are able to partner with our clients to quickly shift communications focus and platforms to drive new opportunities.

Peter de Krester, CEO, GO Communications

For many of us in the marketing world, COVID-19 has created an unexpected paradigm shift in the way we manage the impact and expectancies of key stakeholders. While many are treading with caution and observation, one humbly believes the time for powerful storytelling has never been more essential in engaging with consumers.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen both agencies and brands pivot their campaigns toward predicament and audience behaviour.

The game may have changed but the players remain the same! With backs against the wall and a fresh approach to communications, it is pleasing to see innovative solutions being implemented to fruition, which may have not otherwise been thought of. It’s an intriguing time for those within the PR industry. At its embryonic core, the PR business has forever centred on the power of a good story – that won’t change anytime soon!

This may be a period where professionals can use this opportunity to truly harvest their creativity and deep-dive into well-defined story angles further accommodating our friends from the media fraternity.

Although highlighted as a time of isolation, there couldn’t be a greater need for PR professionals to be engaged! Engaged with their colleagues, clients and the media; engaged in formulating new strategies and ideas; engaged in the evolving media landscape and what editors and publishers might be looking for; or at the very least, engaged in each other’s wellbeing while championing solidarity in an unprecedented time for us all.

Lui Xiao Yee, head of client servicing, Kingdom Digital

We noticed that there has been a surge in searches for self-enrichment content – content that would normally not go viral, for example, “Dalgona coffee”. There are also queries for content that is only applicable during these times such as “What to do during lockdown?” and “How to workout at home?” as Malaysians continue to stay at home. As such, brands need to adjust and adapt their content accordingly.

Other than the usual platforms, we also discovered that content creators are playing an important role in this situation as we are seeing more user-generated content such as TikTok videos, Instagram live posts, and viral memes from them. They can be an effective medium that advertisers can leverage on to reach out to their audiences.

Overall, we are seeing about 10% to 20% dip in clients’ ad spend.

We totally understand the clients’ decision to revise the ad budget and spending. It is only logical, given the uncertainties that are all around us. We are, however, committed to creating quality content for our clients regardless of the budget. Hence, we continue to find creative yet cost-efficient ways to help our clients sustain brand awareness and create engagement during this period.

Abhishek Bhattacharjee, chief digital officer, Invictus Blue

At a platform level, obviously digital has shot up tremendously, and within a span of few weeks there have emerged accelerated ways of engaging on digital platforms which were never explored before. That is a good thing. It has forced us to think and to adapt. It also has pushed clients and agencies alike to dive deeper into digital advertising opportunities which, in the long run will impact positively.

At a macro level, it has made us think harder, tell a story better and engage more meaningfully. We would not term it as a dip yet because it is really too soon to set that as a verdict.

Yes, budgets are being re-evaluated, stances are being re-evaluated and rightfully so.

So it is more like enhanced care being taken towards every word spoken, given the tough times we all face. In terms of budgets we might see a dip since last year, but probably it is better to be sure of every word we speak as a brand before any marketing dollars are spent.

Saurabh Chandrashekhar, GM, MediaCom

COVID-19 has done to advertising and marketing budgets in a few weeks, what has been taking years and years – adopt digital as a strategic pillar and not just a touchpoint to reach people. Spends are now moving to digital and creativity is thriving – brands are partnering with each other. For example, ITC Foods is partnering with Domino’s to deliver food in India, Shell offered haircuts in China at its fuel stations and there are several cases happening right here in Malaysia. We’re also seeing greater collaboration emerging in the ecosystem and we hope that continues to be the case.

For Ramadan in particular, it is an important consumption period and we do not expect that to change, given the importance of this period in Malaysia.

Hence, spends will follow the demand and we don’t see adverse impacts on the spends this festive season.

Nizwani Shahar, chief executive, Ogilvy Malaysia

Martech is a great enabler of communications as we strive to make sure every ringgit spent moves the business needle. We are driving strong content to commerce initiatives necessitated by a stronger need for social commerce due to the jump in social media usage. ESports is also seeing an increased spike in consumption which is a great opportunity for brands given the lack of sporting events in the near future. Brands need to find ways to navigate these changing ecosystems and we are proud to partner our clients to help them stay the course.

We have seen some [ad spend] flux and it is to be expected during these times.

But we continue to be supportive of and adaptive to our clients changing business needs throughout.

Syed Nasir, business chief, The Clan

We are living in strange times, and our industry is not spared either. It is imperative that we remain vigilant and embrace the new norm; social distancing with our colleagues, building and executing campaigns in the comfort of our homes, brainstorming and presenting our campaign ideas over video conferencing whilst finding innovative ways to navigate through this clutter of the unknown. Furthermore, consumer behaviour insights are changing daily but if we do not test or act on it, there is a huge possibility we too will stumble.

Our clients in the non-essential sectors are feeling the pinch and have witnessed a dip in sales over past month.

With no clear indication on the status of the festive season, they have clawed back on their spending, which traditionally are their best performing period.

Parames Dorai, group chief business officer, FOREFRONT

Businesses have either had to kickstart or accelerate their digital transformation, to shift towards eCommerce to sustain their businesses or to focus on promoting brand awareness on digital platforms. Virtual events such as webinars and training courses are more common now, as brands try to connect and interact with their audience through these digital experiences. Brands that were hesitant to adopt social tools such as Instagram Live, podcasts, and TikTok are also readily embracing them to expand their reach.

Staying connected to their customers and employees during this pandemic is crucial for businesses.

These advertising changes they have made are likely to go beyond this crisis and carry over to becoming the new norm.

It is important to note that the cost to advertise is now lower for most industries, due to the lowered cost per click on digital channels such as Facebook, which is typical during the post-New Year period. Currently, these platforms are where clients are investing time and effort to reach their consumers currently. So while there has been an expected decrease in ad spend during this period, clients are also funnelling their ad spend towards where it matters digitally and heightening their focus on organic engagement.

A+M’s Content 360 conference is going virtual, and will bring together industry leaders to discuss challenges and share insights on future content marketing trends, as well as successful strategies to help tackle the complex marketing landscape. Sign up here!

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